The Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic may be centered on a basketball game, but the actual event is so much more. The evening is both a homecoming for former UConn players as well as a charitable cause for the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center. So it was Friday evening at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, as some 7,000 fans gathered to watch and meet the likes of Ray Allen, Kemba Walker and a host of others who have donned the Huskies blue and white over the past twenty plus years.
“This a very special time” said Calhoun, “It’s an opportunity to celebrate UConn basketball. But, more importantly we’re also here to celebrate something very special. During our sixteen years (of the Classic) we’ve raised over eight millions dollars”.
The evening opened with a team photo at center court followed by a lengthy introduction of the over 40 players and coaches joining Calhoun on this evening. The Hall of Famer and three time National Champion coach joined current head Coach Kevin Ollie, coming off a National Championship of his own, as the brain trust for the White squad. The White bench featured former greats such as Allen, Walker, Khalid El-Amin, Ben Gordon and the Marshall's, Donny and Donyell.
Chris Smith (1988-92), UConn’s all-time scoring leader (2,145 pts), summed up what keeps the players coming back, “Because it means everything. You’ve got Coach Calhoun, one of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game. You’ve got some of the best players to have ever played the game. We all respect (Calhoun) as a man first and coach second.”
The Blue squad, under the tutelage of Dave Leitao, Karl Hobbs and Glen Miller, fielded, among others, the ‘Mini-Microwave’ Johnny Gwynn, UConn’s all-time assist leader Taliek Brown, Jeremy Lamb, Charlie Villanueva and Rudy Gay.
Asked if the Celebrity Classic gets old Allen answered, “No, it never does. It’s always a pleasure to see all the faces and all the guys. I’m so envious of the fans, because you get a chance to (relive the) great eras of the 80’s, 90’s and the 2000’s.”
Villanueva opened the scoring of the free-flowing affair, a game looked more like NBA all-star game rather than hard-nosed Husky hoops, that was high on show-boating and short on defense. Team white came back from a three-point deficit to start the fourth quarter with plenty of excitement down the stretch, as game MVP Walker nailed a base-line three with twenty-five seconds left giving Ollie’s squad a three-point lead, 112-109. Lamb answered for the Blue with a top of the key three knotting the game with just under ten ticks left. After a time-out, El-Amin hit what would be the game winner with a floater in the lane with just 0.7 seconds left on the clock.
It was almost fitting that Mr. “We shocked the world”, would hit the winner.
Basketball was only the beginning of the four day event that includes golf, shows and a breakfast with Calhoun
Said Taliek, “There’s no place like Connecticut)